Carrie Ellen Phillips & Vanessa von Bismarck, Co-Founding Partners

On the heels of the agency’s 25th anniversary, we spoke with BPCM co-founding partners Carrie Ellen Phillips and Vanessa von Bismarck about the key factors propelling their team’s enduring success. From their backgrounds and early careers to industry trends, sustainability strategies and predictions for the future of PR, Vanessa and Carrie provide a candid and insightful perspective on their journey and the evolving landscape of their field.

Tell us about your careers before co-founding BPCM.

Vanessa: I grew up in Germany and then did my studies in the U.K. I was passionate about business and finance, particularly commodities, so I became a sugar trader in London. After two years, I decided I wanted to start my own business, and PR seemed appealing, so I moved to the U.S.

Carrie: I grew up as a Navy brat and lived mostly in California and Japan, and then moved to New York after college. I worked in music publicity and then for a big agency on the Milk Mustache campaign. When I moved to New York in 1998, I worked on luxury accounts for a small agency and that is where I met Vanessa!

Congratulations on celebrating BPCM’s 25th anniversary this year. What do you see as the key factors that have contributed to the agency's enduring success in the ever-evolving landscape of public relations and communications?

Carrie: One the hallmarks of BPCM is that our laser focus is always on who the message needs to reach. The world is always changing—change is the constant—and that is especially true with how messages get communicated. When we started your three avenues were print media, broadcast and radio (remember radio?). As the media landscape has expanded, so have we.  Any time there is a new medium, we get curious about it and try to understand how to deliver messages that resonate on those platforms. 

Vanessa: I think a key differentiator between what we did then and what we do now is how we approach our client’s strategy to start with. In the past, it was all about the product, but today, we feel we need to look at the desired consumer and where they get influenced, who they follow, what they read, where they travel, and what other brands they care about—and then build a narrative that allows us to enter their universe with all the different platforms available to us.

Is there anything you miss about the old industry days? Anything you prefer about today’s landscape?

Carrie: One of the beautiful things about the industry now is the willingness of clients to let you be creative and work outside the box. There is a deeper understanding of what it takes to break through the noise, and because the competition is so stiff, clients are willing to take risks. Our most recent CeraVe TikTok campaign is a great example of a client being smart and brave and willing to lean into the joke in order to break through. 

Vanessa: I miss the community. For better or for worse, there was a much stronger community in the past. Today, everyone is on their own planet. That said, I also feel that the new way of working has allowed us to grow much wider as an agency, whether its categories or services.

Every influencer is in and of itself a mini-magazine and there are many more ways to help clients build brand recognition.  

Vanessa, given the time you spend in Europe, how has your international perspective influenced BPCM's approach to serving clients in fashion, beauty, and travel? Additionally, can you highlight any global industry trends that you find particularly noteworthy?

One thing that always astounds me when I travel to Europe is how the energy levels are so different. New York still to this day feels like an electrical socket you connect with as soon as you land. I see Europe hunkering down, focusing on human connection and on the geopolitical atmosphere. Asia is once again on the rise and brands are looking to the Middle East and Asia to make up for lost time and sales, especially in fashion.

The biggest trend in our industry I see is that fashion is going through an identity crisis. LVMH is fine, of course, because they have budgets that allow them to create their own environment. But all others that depend on wholesale are hitched to a retail environment that is going through a very hard time right now and pulling designers down with it.

Consumers care about experiences, wellness and self-care, so it’s the golden age for the beauty industry, travel and wellness brands.

Vanessa, closing out the agency’s first year with Volkswagen, what were some key moments in managing the brand's communications, and how has this experience added to BPCM's expertise?

VW has opened up a whole new world for us. Apart from the category, it has also allowed us to expand our service offerings to internal/workforce comms, which I find fascinating as every employee should be an ambassador to their brand. With so many people still working remotely, communications have been more important than ever internally as well as externally. We were also able to flex our content creation muscle which has been fun, launching the ID. Buzz, which is the iconic VW Bus reincarnated as an EV.

Carrie, can you share innovative approaches or trends you've observed in incorporating sustainability into PR strategies, and how does BPCM stay at the forefront of these developments?

Ten years ago, when BPCM started working with clients on sustainability, it was the brave, outside few who chose to believe it was important. The great news is that now there are very few who don’t accept that it is important. I’m thrilled to see it! But I also see a lot of people communicating on sustainability without a deep understanding of its nuance. Language is crucial, and sloppy language or bad messaging can put a brand on the firing line. 

It's a huge undertaking to have the expertise that we hold, not only in sustainability but in how to speak about a brand’s sustainability efforts without greenwashing. Our team is dedicated to being deeply steeped in regulations and best practices, not only in the U.S., but in Europe and Asia as well. As an example, when the FTC Green Guides proposal came out last year and was up for review, our team immediately met, dissected it, and ran the propositions through real-life scenarios to understand the implications and unintended consequences. It was a powerful exercise that helped us advise our clients on how to craft their responses to the Green Guides. 

We also attend key conferences and collaborate with different solution-providers on all sides of the industry in order to help connect our brands to the organizations that can help them meet their sustainability goals. Especially when it comes to sustainability, just getting press coverage is not enough. Our job is truly to advise with an eye on achieving solid goals. 

Carrie, you’re a speaker and advisor at Bard MBA in Sustainability, Columbia University, and with venture capital funds like ReGen; how do these roles inform your approach to sustainability within the PR landscape, and how does it benefit BPCM's clients?

I am someone who loves to be constantly learning and sharing what I’ve learned. My relationship with Bard developed seven years ago because of exactly that. I realized there was so much more I wanted to know, and I realized that the Bard students could benefit from “real world” case studies that BPCM could provide. Now, the Bard MBA in Sustainability is taught out of the BPCM office in Dumbo. One Friday per month I have office hours for the Bard students in the fashion industry and we collaborate on a lot of things. In fact, the person helping us with our B-Corp filing came out of the Bard program. 

ReGen is a venture fund run by Dan Fitzgerald and Rose Marcario. I jumped at the chance to be on their advisory board because I’m constantly inspired not just by the innovators we are supporting, but by the other advisors on the fund. It’s exciting to be around people who help you think differently and challenge your perspective. We will not change the trajectory of the climate crisis by doing the same things we’ve been doing, and this group really thinks about doing things differently.

What do you foresee shaping the future of PR, and how can marcomms pros stay ahead?

Carrie: With the advent of ChatGPT and AI being able to predict what people want to hear, I think that authenticity and human touch in messaging will become more and more important.  It’s important to know how to use and work with the technology, and at the same time, it’s the human touch and the creative impulse that will create messages that resonate. 

Vanessa: The other aspect that is becoming more and more important is to have a full 360-degree approach for our clients in terms of messaging, events, content, influencer and social media marketing, as well as a hyper focus on audiences for certain sales channels.


Contact The PR Net